I see so many sad, disturbing and infuriating posts come across my social media feed that I have, on more than one occasion, sworn to close all of my accounts and become an internet hermit. The things people share these days are incredible, and all for what? A like, a wow, a sad face or angry face emoji? Is this what our culture is becoming? Infuriating or saddening people to get attention? Without even the most meager attempt to try and discern if what we are redistributing is even remotely true? I hope not. Fear tactics and extreme radicalization were used by media outlets long before facebook. I know it won’t change. In fact, it has only gotten worse with the advent of the world-wide web. I personally find this marketing of propaganda so disgusting that I roll my eyes every time I see an ad for the next “Channel 2 investigative report.”
I usually don’t let it bother me much. I just accept that it is a part of culture and shake my head and move on. I tend to see the good in the world and the good in people. Are there exceptions to this, sure, as with anything. However, when the propaganda concerns my profession, and potentially the health of my patients, I find it a lot more difficult to just accept this.
It seems that with each new, helpful product released in the veterinary industry there is a news story that follows about how that product kills pets. These stories often have some jaw-dropping title attached like, “your vet may be prescribing your pet poison!” Then we get to hear a million horror stories about how the same thing happened when someone else’s pet took the same medication. The story builds on itself and everyone who reads it and has lost a pet, now considers the idea that this product could be the cause.
I personally experienced this recently. A pet died and the owners were very upset, and understandably so. I offered to perform a necropsy and the owners initially declined, as they were just too distraught by the loss, again, understandably so. Fortunately, the owner had a change of heart and the necropsy was performed. The pet had been given a product that was linked to a “report” of animal deaths a couple of years ago. This report has since been invalidated multiple times, but once something is on the internet it is forever. Like a bad Christmas gift, it keeps popping back up until it has been re-gifted so many times, it ends up back in the hands of the original gifter. The only problem is that the gifter in this case wants the story to continue being circulated.
In this particular case, the necropsy revealed that the pet had unfortunately passed from a twisted stomach. The same condition that ultimately led to the passing of the beloved pet in the movie “Marley and Me.” Although, I find them deeply disturbing, I wanted to perform that necropsy for two reasons. One, if that product had killed the pet, and as a veterinarian I promoted its use, I would have been heart-broken. Second, I wanted to know if that product didn’t harm the dog, what had. And could that finding provide some closure for the distraught owner.
Initially I was undeniably a little relieved to find that the product had nothing to do with the pet’s death. I was relieved that I had not unintentionally been poisoning dogs. It was only after the dust cleared that I became somewhat frustrated and even saddened. What if the necropsy had never been performed? If you’ll recall, it almost wasn’t. Both the owner and myself would have been even more distraught. I would still have been skeptical, as is my nature, however, I certainly would have had at least a small amount of wonder and concern. I may also have been, and this poor owner certainly would have been, sensitized to the claims surrounding these types of stories.
This is where the harm in all of this lies. Maybe I would have stopped prescribing this medication for my clients. Maybe this owner would share the fact that this product killed their pet. Maybe more people would share the story and convince people to stop using a product that has saved many lives. Maybe an owner, trying to do the best thing for their pet, stops using this product and the dog ultimately dies from the disease it was designed to prevent. Maybe people would stop trusting their vets. Many already have.
In many of these reports, someone with experience in that field can find a million faults in the article or story. However, someone without an advanced degree just has to ponder and we often let our hearts decide what we believe. For example, if I see a post that says typing some statement on my wall will keep all of my facebook posts from being made public, I don’t know. My heart says ohhh, type that. But by the time I’m halfway through (slow typer), my brain says, it’s facebook, they own the world, and you can’t stop them. By the way it doesn’t work. That’s a pretty benign example, but the same logic applies.
By no means do I expect everyone to become as skeptical as I am. That would be a pretty big challenge. And, I certainly wouldn’t want people to just ignore what could be potentially helpful information. But, I would like to think people could take a step back when this type of article or story comes across their feed. I’d like to see people give the heart a second to heal, and then ask the brain to consider what it had just consumed. Then ask the brain some questions. How likely is it that what I’ve just read or seen true? Could there be another side to this story? And by far, the biggest one, does correlation equal causation. Every time I see a deer on the side of the road, I see buzzards. And I just have to think, how did those buzzards kill that deer.
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